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The worst sports contract ever

By Steve Politi, Special to CNN
updated 2:20 PM EDT, Fri June 7, 2013
In 2007, the New York Yankees signed Alex Rodriguez to a 10 year, $275 million contract. The Yankees must continue to pay him more than $90 million on a contract that doesn't expire until he's 42 years old. Click through to see other sports contracts that sports columnist Steve Politi says will go down as less than savvy deals. In 2007, the New York Yankees signed Alex Rodriguez to a 10 year, $275 million contract. The Yankees must continue to pay him more than $90 million on a contract that doesn't expire until he's 42 years old. Click through to see other sports contracts that sports columnist Steve Politi says will go down as less than savvy deals.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Steve Politi says Alex Rodriguez's contract is the worst in sports history
  • The Yankees still must pay him more than $90 million over the next four years
  • Rodriguez will be 42 when the contract finally runs out
  • Rodriguez has hit 647 career home runs but has yet to play this season because of injury

Editor's note: Steve Politi is a sports columnist for The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter: @StevePoliti.)

(CNN) -- Alex Rodriguez will never be remembered as the greatest slugger in baseball, or as the greatest third-baseman, and -- despite the recent headlines -- probably not even as the biggest cheater.

But he will go down in record books for something: Having the worst contract in American professional sports history.

This is not a title that we hand out lightly, because teams have handed out some doozies over the years. Michael Vick got $135 million over 10 years from the Atlanta Falcons, and for that money, they got a quarterback who completed 54% of his passes and went to prison for animal cruelty.

Jerome James signed with the Knicks for $30 million, then averaged a grand total of three points a game. Barry Zito got $126 million from the San Francisco Giants and essentially forgot how to pitch. Rick DiPietro signed a $67 million contract with the Islanders, but now the goaltender couldn't stop a beach ball -- which is an issue because that deal doesn't run out until 2021.

And then, there is Bobby Bonilla's deal with the Mets. The money-strapped baseball team in Queens is still paying the retired outfielder more than 18 players on their active roster and will continue paying him $1.2 million through 2035 (when Bonilla is 72) as part of a mind-blowing buyout deal.

Steve Politi
Steve Politi

Still: The Rodriguez deal tops them all for its sheer size and stupidity. On December 13, 2007, the Yankees signed him to a 10-year, $275 million contract loaded with incentives that, five years later, is an anvil on the payroll for even the richest team in baseball.

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Why is it the worst? Let us count the ways:

1. The Yankees had a chance to move on.

They had moved on, in fact, if you believed the strong words that came out of the team's Tampa, Florida, offices during a tumultuous two weeks.

Scott Boras, who was Rodriguez's agent at the time, announced in the middle of a World Series game that his client would void the remaining three years and $72 million of the massive and ill-fated $252 million deal he had signed with the Texas Rangers as a free agent.

In some corners of the Yankees organization, the news was met with a sigh of relief. Rodriguez was productive in his time with the team, but controversial. And he had, at that point, wilted in the postseason.

The idea that the team would bring him back was scoffed at. The Rangers were still paying $7 million a year from the original contract as part of the trade terms to the Yankees, and GM Brian Cashman insisted that the team had no intention of losing that subsidy.

"If a player doesn't want us, we don't want them," said Hank Steinbrenner, who had assumed control of the team as his father, George, had started to decline. "That chapter is closed."

But Rodriguez, who had 54 home runs and 156 RBI in an MVP season in 2007, was a big star the team wanted for its profitable YES Network and its new $1 billion stadium. So that chapter was reopened.

2. They had no competition.

Bringing back Rodriguez, in itself, wasn't an awful move. He was still a productive player in his prime. But somehow, the Yankees were given all the cards in the negotiation and still tossed them face-up onto the table.

All around baseball, teams were scoffing at the idea of giving A-Rod a reported $350 million deal. The White Sox didn't want him. The Angels didn't want him. There were so few landing places, it seemed entirely possible, if not probable, that Rodriguez's gamble to opt out of the deal would backfire.

So what did the Yankees do? They crawled back to the table and gave him a raise, a deal that would pay him $27.5 million a year with a series of $6 million bonuses for climbing up the all-time home run list.

To quote Newsday at the time: "(Hank Steinbrenner) wanted Rodriguez back so badly that he not only reversed a very loud and public proclamation, he wound up bidding against no one but himself in his mad rush to secure A-Rod's services."

All it took was an apology from Rodriguez (who says it doesn't pay to say you're sorry?), and A-Rod had his 10-year deal.

3. His production failed to meet the salary from the start.

Make no mistake: The numbers were very good. A-Rod earned $95 million in the first three years of his deal, and for that he batted .286 with a .537 slugging percentage, 95 home runs, 256 runs and 328 RBI.

And the Yankees won the 2009 World Series, with Rodriguez a driving force during an epic postseason run. Some will say that one October justified the entire contract.

Still, the decline began quickly.

In 2011-12, Rodriguez missed 103 games to injury and saw his batting average dip to .274 with 34 home runs and just 119 RBI in the two seasons combined. Despite his 647 career home runs, he was so bad in the postseason last October, Yankees manager Joe Girardi dropped him from the lineup entirely, and he hasn't played since after offseason hip surgery. Nobody is sure when he'll be ready again.

Which is bad enough. But the Yankees still owe Rodriguez, who turns 38 next month, $28 million in 2014, $21 million in 2015 and $20 million each in 2016 and 2017. If he can't get on the field now, what can the team possibly expect to get from him in his early 40s? And that doesn't even factor in ...

4. The cheating scandals.

Note that the word scandal is plural here. After insisting for years that his success was not a product of the "Steroids Era" in baseball, a Sports Illustrated report reveal that he had, in fact, failed a test for illegal substances in 2003.

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So more than 200 journalists packed a news conference in Tampa in February 2009 to listen as Rodriguez explained that, from 2001 to 2003, he had used steroids while with the Texas Rangers. But only with the Rangers.

"My mistake was because I was immature and I was stupid," Rodriguez said. "I blame myself. For a week here, I kept looking for people to blame, and I keep looking at myself."

He insisted that he was clean during his time with the Yankees. But now, according to an ESPN report, Major League Baseball plans to suspend him 100 games for his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs obtained through a Miami-area anti-aging clinic.

The Yankees? Disappointed is the word managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner used.

"There have no doubt been times when we've been disappointed in him and we've conveyed that to him and he understands that," he said. "But look, everybody's human and everybody makes mistakes. If you've got a guy over the course of 10 years, there's going to be times any of us make mistakes.

"It's a big contract," Steinbrenner said. "We all hope he's going to act like a Yankee and do the best to live up to it."

The founder of the clinic, Tony Bosch, is reportedly set to meet with baseball officials Friday. Does he have enough credibility or evidence to support the suspensions of a reported 20 players? Many people around the sport aren't sure.

For the Yankees, the question is something else entirely: If A-Rod actually is suspended, will it be enough to get them out from under the worst contract in professional sports history?

A-Rod denies performance-enhancing drugs reports

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Steve Politi

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